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Courtesy of Dr. Trimor-Tritsch

One of the most helpful tools in evaluating pregnancies is an ultrasound or commonly known as a sonogram. The visual images that it displays bring us into the world of the fetus and its environment that provides helpful information for both mother and clinician.

Based on the $3 trillion annual cost of healthcare in the U.S., insurance companies monitor the use of ultrasounds and in some instances will only pay for one, usually in the second trimester unless there is a compelling reason to do more. This rule became a problem when hospital and outpatient scheduling clerks decided to practice medicine without a license and deny the appointment because it was “too early” in the pregnancy.

Ordering first trimester ultrasounds are important because they are more accurate in predicting due dates which becomes extremely important if the patient needs to be induced. The later the ultrasound, the less accurate the dates based on the measurements of the fetus and a due date should never be changed based on a third-trimester due date. Now, there’s even more reasons to obtain a first-trimester ultrasound if possible.

According to an article by Drs. Ilan Timor-Tritsch and Simi Gupta of New York University School of Medicine, high-frequency transvaginal transducers provide high-resolution images that can detect early problems regarding the fetus. A first-trimester ultrasound can detect:

  • Placental abnormalities
  • Chromosomal abnormalities
  • The length of the cervix which is important for patients with a previous history of preterm labor and birth
  • The bones in the head and neck whose absence would suggest a significant birth defect called anencephaly (meaning absence of the brain)
  • The space between the skin and the edge of soft tissue the lies over the back of the neck (aka nuchal translucency) which is used to screen for Down syndrome

The American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine now recommends first trimester assessment of fetal anatomy followed by a second trimester ultrasound.

So, does a pregnant woman need a first-trimester ultrasound? You bet she does.